Education

New Albany-Floyd County Schools has reported three cases of COVID-19 after the district’s first day of in-person instruction.

Fairmont Elementary has two cases, and Green Valley Elementary has one. Both schools are in New Albany, Ind.

Superintendent Brad Snyder said one class at Green Valley and the entire first and third grades at Fairmont will switch to virtual learning until Monday.

All three cases were identified Wednesday, the district’s first day with students back on campus. The school is offering a choice between virtual and in-person learning, and nearly 80% of students have chosen the latter.

Before classes started, Snyder said the district had prepared some guidelines for what happens when cases are found among the student body and staff. He noted several variables that come into play, such as whether or not the person came to school and, if so, how long they were in the building near others.

“There are so many different scenarios and hypotheticals that the correct answer is when we are given the information, we will analyze it, ask questions, consult with the county health department and make an appropriate decision,” he said during an interview with WFPL on Tuesday. “That appropriate decision could be some phone calls asking some kids to quarantine until further testing is done, or it could be a class is closed. It could be a building is closed for two to five days or longer. It’s a simple question, but it just has an enormously complex answer.”

NA-FC joins several other Southern Indiana school districts that have been impacted by COVID-19. Greater Clark County Schools opened two weeks before NA-FC, and has had cases at seven schools.

At Tuesday’s GCCS school board meeting, Superintendent Mark Laughner said 58 staff members and 210 students were in quarantine. Those figures account for 4% of the district’s staff and 3% of all students attending in-person classes.

“To me, that speaks to the fact that our students, our staff are doing a good job with this,” Laughner said during the meeting. “When you look at the number of cases we’ve had with essentially 7,300 students attending in person, to have that situation is not too bad. They’re managing it pretty well.”

Jeffersonville High School was the only school in the district to start with only virtual instruction, doing so for a week due to a staff member testing positive prior to the first day of classes. Charlestown Middle School, Charlestown High School, New Washington High School, Parkwood Elementary, Pleasant Ridge Elementary and Thomas Jefferson Elementary have also had cases.

On Aug. 3, an entire class at Pleasant Ridge was quarantined. Another case identified there last weekend caused the school to shift to eLearning Aug. 10-14.

“If we see a situation where we need to act… in terms of quarantining or shutting down a school, then we’re going to do that,” Laughner said at the board meeting. “I think we’ve shown that in what we’ve done with Pleasant Ridge. We’re going to make sure we err on the side of caution with our students and staff.”

Laughner added that spread among school staff is one of the district’s biggest concerns. He attributed the Pleasant Ridge closure to the number of staff members in quarantine, and said the district worries a similar scenario could play out at Jeffersonville High School.

“As we get more cases throughout the communities and in school, will we have the staff to cover the buildings?” Laughner said during the meeting. “If we don’t, then we’re going to have to close down that building for a week or two weeks… I think you’ll see more of that as we move through this, just to be up front and honest with you.”

Rob Willman is principal at Floyd Central High School, one of NA-FC’s two high schools. After Wednesday’s morning rush of students arriving for their first day, he said he was pleased with mask compliance and social distancing. He believes that if students and teachers continue to comply with precautionary policies, spread can be kept to a minimum.

But he also acknowledged the difficulties of containing the virus in group settings.

“We could do everything right, and it might not be enough as far as keeping school open,” Willman told WFPL on Wednesday. “And I don’t mean to be gloom and doom, I want to try to be as honest as I can with people.”

Willman echoed Laughner’s concerns, noting that the most difficult situation to overcome would be one that involved teachers and staff testing positive for COVID-19.

“The biggest thing that would affect us is when staff members start getting infected,” he said. “Students, that’s fairly simple. You can have them stay home and do the virtual model. Staff, it’s more complicated.”

Superintendent Snyder said no new additional cases have been identified in NA-FC schools as of Thursday afternoon.

Cases have previously been located at Lanesville Junior-Senior High School in neighboring Harrison County, and Rock Creek Community Academy in Sellersburg. Clarksville Community Schools reported a case on its first day back in session last week.

John Boyle covers southern Indiana communities and health for WFPL News. He is a Report for America Corps member.